Roy_summer vacation_1967 maybe
Roy, sometime between the Tokyo and Mexico City Olympic Games.

On this, the last day of 2015, I’d like to thank everyone for their support of my blog – The Olympians. I have posted at least once every day since I started the blog on May 1. Out of about 300 posts, I’ve selected 25 that I personally like, in good part because I’ve had the great fortune to talk with the people mentioned in these stories.

  1. A Helicopter View of US-USSR Relations, Olympic Style
  2. American Gymnast Makoto Sakamoto and Memories of Home: Post-War Shinjuku
  3. Arnold Gordon (Part 1): Befriending Judy Garland at Manos in Shinjuku
  4. The Banning of Headgear in Boxing: The Convoluted World of Protecting Our Athletes
  5. Clumsy Handoff, Beautiful Result: A World Record Finish for the American 4X400 Relay Team in Tokyo
  6. Coach Hank Iba: The Iron Duke of Defense Who Led the Men’s Basketball Team to Gold in 1964
  7. Creativity by Committee: The 2020 Olympic Emblem and the Rio Olympic Mascots?
  8. Crowded, Noisy, Dirty, Impersonal: Tokyo in the 1960s
  9. The Dale McClements’ Diary: From Athlete to Activist
  10. Doug Rogers, Star of the Short Film “Judoka”: A Fascinating Look at Japan, and the Foreigner Studying Judo in the 1960s
  11. Escape from East Berlin in October 1964: A Love Story
  12. Escape from Manchuria: How the Father of an Olympian Left a Legacy Beyond Olympic Proportions
  13. Fame: Cover Girl and Canadian Figure Skater Sandra Bezic
  14. Frank Gorman: Harvard Star, Tokyo Olympian, and Now Inductee to the International Swimming Hall of Fame
  15. The Geesink Eclipse – The Day International Judo Grew Up
  16. India Beats Pakistan in Field Hockey: After the Partition, the Sporting Equivalent of War
  17. The Narrow Road to the Deep North
  18. On Being Grateful: Bob Schul
  19. Protesting Via Political Cartoons: Indonesia Boycotts the Tokyo Olympics
  20. The Sexist Sixties: A Sports Writers Version of “Mad Men” Would Make the Ad Men Blush
  21. “Swing” – The Danish Coxless Fours Found It, and Gold, in Tokyo
  22. Toby Gibson: Boxer, Lawyer, Convict
  23. Vesper Victorious Under Rockets Red Glare – A Dramatic Finish to One of America’s Greatest Rowing Accomplishments
  24. What it Means to Be an Olympian: Bill Cleary Remembers
  25. Who is that Bald-Headed Beauty: The Mystery of the Soviet Javelin Champion
1980 US ice hockey team locker
1980 US ice hockey team locker

It was February 22, 1980. The American men’s ice hockey team were in a locker room in upstate New York, preparing for a game against the Soviet Union in the Olympic Winter Games. Bill Cleary was the head coach of ice hockey power, Harvard University, and he stopped by the locker room to wish his friend, Coach Herb Brooks, good luck. They talked, and then Cleary left the room.

“Then I see the trainer chasing after me and says Herb wants me to go back in to talk to the boys. So I went back and this is what I said: ‘I know what’s going through your mind. You feel isolated here in upper state New York, oblivious of what’s going on in the rest of the world. But you have captivated our entire country and everyone is pulling for you. There are 20 guys pulling for you more than anyone. And that’s the 1960 team. There is only one outcome. You’re going to win!'”

To Cleary, member of the 1960 US ice hockey team, the first American team to win gold in the Olympics, being an Olympian is an honor. When he attended his first Olympics in 1956 in Cortina Italy, he remembers being 21, a kid who never left Boston thrust into the incredible beauty of the majestic Alps. “I thought the sky was so beautiful and was so close it was going to come down on you. Heaven was right there. And we were marching in the parade during the opening ceremony, not long after World War Two and the Korean War, and in came the Russians, the ogres.” But they weren’t there to fight. They were there to compete in sports. “That’s what makes the Olympics so special,” said Cleary. “Olympians can do more for world peace and good will than all the politicians in the world.”

(L-R): Bill Cleary, Dick Meredith, Weldy Olson, Dick Rodenhiser, and John Mayasich were on the 1956 and 1960 US teams
(L-R): Bill Cleary, Dick Meredith, Weldy Olson, Dick Rodenhiser, and John Mayasich were on the 1956 and 1960 US teams

But Cleary believes being an Olympian is also an obligation, an obligation to demonstrate a bond across nationalities and generations, to continuously uphold an Olympic spirit. He remembers the performance and the behavior of the US Men’s ice hockey team at the 1998 Nagano Games. He didn’t like the addition of professional athletes, but when they reacted to poor performance at the Games by vandalizing the locker room, he was miffed. “I was really upset about that. They should have been proud to compete, but instead they were burning their uniforms. We are Olympians. We should take great pride when we represent our country.”

In contrast, Cleary remembers a time in Czechoslovakia he will never forget. In 1983 Coach Cleary took his Harvard hockey team over to Prague. It was Christmas time, but you could tell the locals were having a tough time, he said. On the second to last night of this tour, the interpreter informed him that a fellow Olympian from the 1960 Czech ice hockey team wanted to see him. And when they pulled into a small coal-mining town called Koln, Cleary stepped off the bus to be greeted by Czech goaltender, Vladimir Dvoracek.

“And all of a sudden Dvoracek, he sees me, and shouts ‘Bill, Bill!’ He brings me inside to a room and says ‘coffee, beer, coke?’ He wanted to know what my life was like, about my teammates, about the US. It was almost like he was interrogating me, he had so many questions. Finally, I said I got to go and prepare the team for the game. We warm up, and at the end of the warmups, they play the national anthems. I see my friend Dvoracek and he grabs the microphone. He tells the audience, ‘I want you all to welcome my good friend Bill Cleary. We have not seen each other in 25 years. Our countries are not friendly, but we are friends. We are Olympians and we are friends.’ I am getting goosebumps right now just thinking about it.”

Czech goaltender, Vladimir Dvoracek, sits in the front row, fourth from the left.
Czech goaltender, Vladimir Dvoracek, sits in the front row, fourth from the left.

After the game they met again, and Dvoracek brings out a scrapbook with pictures of his hockey career until it comes time for me to leave. “He was sad, kind of tearful that I was

Bob (14) and Bill (7) Cleary
Bob (14) and Bill (7) Cleary

The team was set. Nobody on the team wanted the new guys. So when Bill and Bob Cleary joined the US ice hockey team at the deadline, just prior to the start of the Olympic Winter Games in Squaw Valley California, their reception was, well, icy. “When we arrived on the rink in Denver, the other players walked by us without saying a word,” Bill Cleary told me recently.

“I thought, well, this is going to be fun.”

The brothers Cleary were members of the US ice hockey team and Olympic champions, not in 1980 – the Miracle on Ice- but in 1960, the so-called “Forgotten Miracle”. While Jim Craig, Mike Eruzione, and Mark Johnson became house-hold names at Lake Placid in New York, by beating the Russians on their way to gold and glory, the 1960 US ice hockey team did that first.

Captain Jack Kirrane, star goaltender Jack McCartan, John Mayasich, the Christian brothers, and the Cleary brothers shocked the hockey world by knocking off perennial powers Canada, the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia in succession. The Cleary brothers alone accounted for 24 points in the seven Olympic games, and they weren’t even on the team two weeks before.

As Bill told me, they were businessmen first. He and his brother Bob were just starting a fledging insurance company. Bob was married and Bill was soon to be. Playing in the Olympics would have meant lost revenue. But the coach of the US team, Jack Riley, was heading a team that was struggling, losing to teams across the country. So Riley was persistent. “He kept calling me. I don’t know how many, but quite a few. I finally said, if you want to take me, you have to take Bobby too. Bobby was good, the leading collegiate scorer in the country, and was on the 1959 World Championship US team.”

Coach Riley convinced Bill Cleary to join, and with him came his brother Bob. This led to two cuts from the team, one very famous one – Herb Brooks – the eventual coach of the 1980 US team. But this decision proved decisive. Once the brothers Cleary joined, the team did not lose a single match prior to or during the Olympics.

Bob Cleary passed away a month ago, on September 16.

“Bobby was a classic centerman,” said his brother Bill. “He had a great ability to know where people were on the ice, a sixth sense. And he smelled the net. In the game against the Canadians, he scored the first goal. If you ever watch the game, he won the face off, and when Mayasich passed toward the net, Bobby was prone in the air when he chipped the puck into the net.”

Bill and Bob Cleary were brothers on the team, but when they first arrived on the team, as remarked on earlier, there was no brotherly love for them. It took one game in the Olympics to turn that around, according to Bill. “When we first got on the ice for the first game, my brother passed it to me. I shot the puck and it hit the other winger, and the puck went into the net. There’s a great picture of the three of us hugging each other. And when we started to win, it got better.

“Today, you would never know we had those problems in the early days. We’re all very close today.”

Many remember the 1980 Men’s Ice Hockey Team. But we cannot forget the 1960 team. Here’s the trailer of the film, “Forgotten Miracle”, depicting the journey of that pioneering American hockey team.